GHRA calls for national dialogue on political significance of ethnicity

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) is proposing that a national consultation/conversation/dialogue be set in train aimed at a better understanding of the political significance of ethnicity in Guyana.

In a statement issued in commemoration of International Human Rights Day, today, GHRA said it was consciously suggesting ‘ethnicity’, rather than the more commonly used ‘race’, because it embraces factors such as religion, language and culture as well as race and colour. “Ethnicity is the conscious manipulation of such factors – separately or collectively – for political purposes,” the GHRA said.

It stated that although there is a forcible reminder every five years that Guyana’s elections have been and are determined by ethnic influences, the state of denial remains largely undisturbed. Between elections, the GHRA said, persons minimize the problem, pointing to the ease with which in everyday life Guyanese of all ethnic backgrounds mix, mingle, merge and marry. Political parties reject being characterized as ethnically-based. Then at election time, there is resistance to acknowledge the predictability of results by aiming a pacification campaign at those who lose out.

The GHRA compared this to keeping a mad cousin locked in a room in order to suppress, without solving, a rude disruption of normal life.
It noted that electoral victories achieved by manipulating ethnic groups into political formations come at a price, since ethnic loyalties have to be rewarded by appointments, jobs, scholarships, licenses, land, or whatever is appropriate. Ethnic politics are an expensive form of corruption, the human rights body said, pointing out the unacknowledged price society pays in the constant drain of talented, decent and ambitious Guyanese who can no longer live with the consequences of such degenerate politics.

“This ethnically-driven exodus which prevents Guyana from realizing its potential is partly disguised by trends encouraged by globalization by which lots of people from the most unlikely places settle in equally unlikely places all around the world,” the release said. “Were our problem simply a feature of globalization, our rich, vast and empty country would be experiencing much busier arrivals than departures. Something is profoundly wrong with a society from which significant numbers seek to leave, year after year. Moreover, our problem is more fundamental than the loss of talent, it is rooted in the concept that everyone in society matters.”

Human rights are the international community’s response to the idea that everyone counts, the GHRA said, as captured in the phrase of the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “…the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family”.  And since the results of the recently concluded elections have created a situation conducive to a more constructive national response to this issue, the GHRA is calling for a conversation within a framework of human rights and fairness to determine to the common satisfaction of all, the nature and significance of ethnicity in our political life.

The extent of the influence of ethnicity on Guyana’s chronic inability to move forward as a nation must be carefully assessed in order to determine the kind of solution Guyana needs, the release pointed out. Overestimating the gravity of the grievances of minorities can lead to equally unworkable solutions as underestimating them, it added.

The consequences of recognizing communal rights of ethnic groups as opposed to recognizing the rights of individual citizens are considerable. It pointed out that individual approaches encourage inclusivity, operating from the standpoint that all are equal, while the communal approach emphasizes difference; the ways in which we are not equal.

The GHRA said that in proposing a national dialogue, it is encouraged by the fact that the recent elections produced results conducive to dialogue and compromise. The need for consensus by virtue of no overall majority encourages dialogue.

The human rights body believes that the national conversation should be genuinely broad-based, not dominated by leaders of political or ethnic factions, nor excluding the significant majority of Guyanese who are more comfortable with cosmopolitan than ethnic labels. It should begin with an assumption that all are seeking a Guyanese identity which respects and celebrates ethnic diversity to enable Guyana as a nation and Guyanese as individuals to function successfully in an increasingly plural world.

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